Cellist Laurence Lesser shares some influential recordings from legendary artists that have impacted his six-decade-long career, which he has recently outlined in the March 2024 issue of The Strad


Cellist Laurence Lesser, photographed by William Struhs, June 1978

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Having recently celebrated his 85th birthday, cellist and pedagogue Laurence Lesser looks back on his formative influences and recalls some of the iconic 20th-century musicians he worked with. Here are some examples of artists and their recordings that have impacted his career.

Tchaikovsky: ‘None But the Lonely Heart’ (arr. Piatigorsky) - Gregor Piatigorsky, cello, Karol Szreter, piano.

This was from when Piatigorsky was about 26, recorded at the end of his Berlin period.  It shows how communicative he was.

Chopin: Nocturne in E-flat op.9-2 (1926) - Pablo Casals, cello

This Casals recording was what we all listened to when we were young. He plays with amazing ease and intonation, also with that ‘whole piece’ feel.

Schubert: Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A Minor, D. 821: I. Allegro moderato - Leonard Rose, cello, Leonid Hambro, piano

In this recording, Rose is playing on the 1662 Nicolò Amati cello now used by Gary Hoffman.  It shows the pure tone and fine command that we all admired.

Donizetti: L’Elisir d’amore - Una furtiva lagrima - Beniamino Gigli, tenor

Gigli had a voice that was so unique and full with such freedom!

The song of the Volga boatmen (Folk song) - Feodor Chaliapin, bass

This is Feodor Chaliapin performing with orchestra. The Volga Boatmen were pulling barges on the Volga Canal; in his voice alone he shows them approaching, nearby, and going away.  And the last note lasts seemingly forever.  Again, no use of mic for dynamics – it’s all him!  

Finally, here is my live performance of Bloch’s Schelomo at New England Conservatory’s magnificent Jordan Hall, made when I was ‘only’ 80:

Read ’Laurence Lesser: the making of a cellist’ in our March 2024 issue here.

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